Overcoming the Big Data Skills Gap: The State of the Labor Market

big data skills gap
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By goir

Since the early days of the big data boom, there’s been a serious supply shortage of credentialed professionals to fill the many newly-created big data jobs around the globe. As with any new field of study, there simply weren’t enough educational programs dedicated to the subject to produce a sufficient volume of skilled job candidates. In recent years, though, it appears that the educational industry has started to ramp up efforts to train students to fill positions in the field.

Outlook for the Big Data Profession

The task they face isn’t trivial. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), available positions for data scientists are expected to grow by 19% through 2026 in the United States alone. That may not sound like much, but that figure is more than double the average growth rate for all occupations nationwide. Another key big data profession, statistician, is expected to grow by a staggering 33% over the same span. The projections bring the size of the problem into stark relief.

Despite the size of the challenge, there are some signs that the labor pool is beginning to grow at a rate more commensurate with demand. At the same time, the growth of the industry is creating jobs with varying levels of educational requirements, which is helping to ease the strain. Here’s a look at the state of the market and the ways that the education industry is responding to the explosive growth of big data around the world.

Lowering Barriers to Entry

There’s some good new hiding within the BLS projections. When big data first started to gain traction and adoption rates started to climb, the general makeup of the labor pool looked far different than it does today. At the outset of the big data revolution, the majority of jobs in the field were held by those possessing a PhD in a STEM discipline. The reasons for this were twofold.

The first reason is that early big data adopters needed people with strong research backgrounds, as many of them were inventing big data systems and methodologies from scratch. The second reason is that there just weren’t many schools offering educational tracks specific to data science. Today, the data indicates that the average educational attainment is now a master’s level education, which has opened the field to a much wider section of the population.

Scaling Up Data Science Programs

As the level of education required for data science professionals has lowered, there has also been a sharp increase in available degree programs at the master’s level. The Graduate Management Admissions Council reports that the number of available data science master’s degree programs had more than tripled worldwide since 2015. As it takes roughly two years to earn a master’s degree, that level of growth points to an exponential increase of qualified applicants entering the industry each year. Some of the biggest growth in the availability of master of data science programs has occurred in the e-learning space, where qualified applicants can train up while still working full time in related fields, like traditional IT and business intelligence.

The Job of the Future

Judging by the data, it seems clear that both business leaders and academia have correctly identified data science as a primary growth industry and are doing everything in their power to keep ahead of global demand. So far, their efforts appear to be bearing fruit, and the pool of available talent within the field is growing far faster than many observers first expected. That’s great news for prospective data science professionals and industry stakeholders alike.

In a growing field like big data, though, it’s impossible to know what innovations will appear and shape the market going forward, but so far, all signs are pointing towards a noticeable easing of the labor market for the foreseeable future.

Andrej is also a dedicated writer and digital evangelist. He is pursuing an ongoing mission to share the benefits of his years of hard-won expertise with business leaders and marketing professionals everywhere. He is a contributor to a wide range of technology-focused publications, where he may be found discussing everything from neural networks and natural language processing to the latest in smart home IoT devices. If there's a new and exciting technology, there's a good chance Andrej is writing about it somewhere out there.